Ophir Mountain fire area dubbed high priority by officials
SUMMIT COUNTY The land that erupted in flames near Farmers Korner Monday was designated as a high priority area in the Community Wildfire Protection Plan, a project that local, state and federal fire agencies have been plugging away at for six months.The plan aims to reduce wildfire risk in the county by using GIS techniques to assign each square mile of the county with a prioritization from low to extreme, based on factors like fuel hazards, the risk of wildfire occurrence and essential infrastructure at risk. From there, strategies can be developed to mitigate some of those factors.Ophir Mountains high priority level meant some sort of additional protection was foreseen for that area be it thinning, patch area cutting or controlled burning to decrease some of the danger, said county special projects manager Steve Hill.Heavy fuel loads and ground litter were both identified in that area, and clearly the proximity to development was a rationale as a high priority area, Hill said. This is an example of where the community wildfire protection plan really did identify the right land for treatment; we just really need to get on with the next step.That next step is for entities such as the Board of County Commissioners (BOCC), the U.S. Forest Service, the towns and homeowners associations to collaborate.Were all in this together and we must work properly to figure out how to attack the priority areas in concert thats extremely important and how we can fund it, said county manager Ron Holliday.Funding, though, can be tricky.According to the plan, 75,000 acres of National Forest land and 35,000 acres of private land in the county would benefit from some sort of fuel reduction, but minimal federal dollars are available due to budget cuts.The county and local congressional delegates are discussing ways to get more money flowing to the Forest Service that would be specifically earmarked for Summit County, and the BOCC is looking at its 2006 budget to see what might be available, Holliday said.The BOCC, local fire chiefs, and state and federal Forest Service officials have been working on the plan since March, but Hill just began presenting the plan to local towns about a week ago.The idea is to solicit feedback and recruit elected officials to sit on the newly forming wildfire council another facet of the plan.The council will be charged with a variety of tasks, including educating homeowners, making sure resources are being directed toward the correct fuel reduction projects and continual refinement of the current protection plan draft.We need to have an entity like the wildfire council that can work to make any changes, Hill said. If we work through the wording right now with all the players, it could take a lot of time, we have other priorities to pursue.Silverthorne Councilmember Vince Lanuza jumped at the chance to sit on the council because with his home backing up to National Forest land, he understands the importance of creating a buffer zone between forest lands and residences. Hes interested in working with all the parties associated with the plan to spread the word about wildfire dangers in the county and how to alleviate some of the potential hazards. Hill will present the protection plan to Dillon and Frisco this month and Breckenridge early next month. His tour will also take him to Blue River, Montezuma, local fire protection districts, the Colorado Division of Wildlife, Denver Water and state and local forest service offices. He hopes to have the council formed by late October or early November.The push to form the council coincides with the conclusion of a summer that handed Summit County its highest number of wildfires in three decades, according to Lake Dillon Fire Authority Deputy Chief Jeff Berino.This weeks Ophir Mountain fire, which put up to five homes in immediate danger of being destroyed, only hammers the point home harder that wildfires are a reality in the county, Holliday said. (Mondays fire) was a shot across the bow to get everybodys attention that this is getting very, very serious, Holliday said. I go by that place two times a day, maybe more. It gives me the creeps every time I go by that hill because were just getting setup.Nicole Formosa can be reached at (970) 668-3998, ext. 229, or at email@example.com.
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